The Government is reviewing the use of zero hours contracts, which have become increasingly widespread as an employment contract in many industries.
Workers on zero hours contracts can’t rely on a steady income, and therefore will find it difficult to plan a budget, never mind secure a loan for a car or mortgage for a house. Unfortunately, the zero hour contract is the usual employment contract for non public sector care workers. For carers, often not paid for travelling time between appointments, it seems a doubly evil form of employment . However, when a business is paid only per hour of care delivered, what is the alternative?
A recent article in The Guardian suggests employee ownership as a model for social care providers. The benefit of being owned by employees is that there are no external shareholders looking to pocket any profit; in employee-owned firms any trading surplus can be reinvested in the business or used to enhance employee conditions.
Responsibility for the care of our elderly and vulnerable lies largely with our public services. In these times of budget cuts councils and health authorities find the cost of in house care delivery prohibitive. One Scottish local authority costed their in house service at £27.34 per hour. An employee-owned provider received £13.99 per hour of care delivered in that year. It is no surprise we see the smaller, independent firms being squeezed out of the market.
This is a great pity. I work with two employee-owned care companies. The employees are committed, professional and do a superb job. The businesses invest heavily in training, and standards are high. Staff turnover is negligible and morale is high. Both companies pay as well as they can, but in comparison to other jobs, the Ts & Cs of employment are minimal.
Focusing on the “Public good, private bad” is not helpful. Employee ownership is a possible solution but we must not expect to get quality care at a bargain basement price. Social care is not an easy job, and with a a rising demographic of elderly people who want to remain in their own homes, the need for properly provided home care will increase. This should not lead to the exploitation of competent and ethical individuals who choose a career in care. Zero hours contracts are not good, but until we wake up and recognize the value of good care, and pay for it appropriately, these contracts will remain a necessary evil.